European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, dear friends.
No one can dispute the merits of two EU Member States in establishing the Eastern Partnership – Poland and Sweden. But no one can dispute that it was the special touch, the contribution of the Czech Republic when the Eastern Partnership was launched here, in Prague, five years ago.
I would now stress one of the six main principles of this Partnership – inclusivity and the role of the civil society. So it is a pleasure to address not only the political representatives of the partner countries and members states, but also you – representatives of the civil society.
When we embarked upon this journey five years ago, we started with a vision:
– to bring the relationship between the EU and its Eastern European partners to a new level;
– to deepen our bilateral engagement and to build a multilateral framework for cooperation and dialogue.
This is not about abstract goals – it is about providing opportunities to the people and moving from opportunities for the few to opportunities for many. The best proof was the confirmation of our vision in Warsaw two years later. From the start, our journey has never had a dull moment. It has required that we remain alert, flexible but most of all focused on the goals that we have set out.
The EU has been very clear in its support for its Eastern partners. We have taken a firm and united stance condemning the illegal annexation of Crimea by Russia. Such behaviour cannot and will not be tolerated in Europe of the 21st century. We fervently insist on the fundamental right of each country to freely determine its foreign policy and its trade policy, as enshrined in the Helsinki Final Act.
Our partnership solidifies relations. It has never been intended as a zero sum game:
where others see rivalries, we see opportunities for cooperation; where others think in near sighted self-interest and revert to using economic coercion, threats and covert action to instigate protests and instability, we strive to establish a common area of prosperity, stability and democracy, where the respect for human rights and fundamental values is the norm.
I believe the Partnership we have embarked upon with our Eastern European partners will further strengthen the common values of democracy and human rights. It will give our partners more solid foundations for future generations. This is what they and their citizens deserve. And it is this approach which will strengthen stability and prosperity throughout the European continent. On this fifth anniversary of the Eastern Partnership let us recommit ourselves to continue our efforts.
I look forward to the discussions at the conference and hope that you will be as courageous as the Presidents and Prime Ministers were in asking questions earlier today. One of the questions was if we, as the EU, were serious in what we offer to our Eastern Partners and if they were serious in undertaking reforms that bring them closer to the EU. I hope you will be able not only to ask similar questions about the EaP but also help us with your potential, as civil society, to find answers to them.